Three years after the battle in Hong Kong, Kage and Sarah remember and encounter vestiges of the past. Spoilers up to Episode 26.
Virtua Fighter is copyright of Sega and others.
Put out the stars
Rub out the sky
Look to the future
Wipe the teardrop from my eye
Shut off the sun
Put out the light
Want you to tell me how you’re gonna make it right
~Melanie Chisholm, Why
The white steel eagle sliced through the clear blue sky and was gone. I could no longer see the plane that carried my brother and Pai to Japan.
I lifted my hand one last time and gave the vanished aircraft a final wave before turning away from the big glass window of the airport. It was a moment later that I realized Alexander was gone from his perch on my shoulder.
He had probably gone along with Pai and Jacky. He cared about Akira just as much as they did, even more. He had traveled a lot with Akira three years ago, around the time when my life’s worst nightmare became a reality, indelible even now from my mind.
Around the time when I became the thing I feared the most. A heartless, mindless shell of a person.
But that was all in the past now, wasn’t it?
The reason why I couldn’t go with them was because I had classes at the university. Plus mid-terms coming up in a few weeks. Akira was a nice, endearing, noble person, but not worth sacrificing a good portion of my education for. I’m sure Jacky, Pai and Alexander were enough to keep his hands full.
I smiled at this.
“You are Sarah Bryant, aren’t you, miss?”
My eyes widened at the sound and I turned to my right to see a short, stocky man with graying brown hair, peering at me with curious eyes behind milk-bottle glasses. He carried a microphone with a television channel logo wrapped right below the mouthpiece. Behind him was a taller, light-haired man, shouldering an impossibly large camera, the lens trained ominously at my face.
“You’re Jacky Bryant’s sister, yes?” the small reporter reiterated. He grinned up at me, showing large white teeth.
“Yes,” I managed to reply, trying not to laugh. He looked comical, almost unreal and cartoonish.
“Ah, very good. So could you please tell us about the relationship between him and Pai Chan?”
I was dumbfounded and surprised and so close to laughter, all at the same time. My voice was barely above a squeaky, gigglish sound as I echoed his words: “Him and Pai Chan?”
“Yeah. Did they have a quickie Las Vegas wedding and are on their way to Japan for a honeymoon?”
It was a miracle that I managed to keep a straight face as I squeezed the words out through the bubbling laughter in my throat. “No. They are having a vacation in Japan, that’s all. They’re meeting some old friends of ours.”
The reporter’s grinning, hopeful face fell slightly, but did not look altogether too disappointed. “Old friends?”
I nodded. “We met them around the time when Jacky was still in the early stages of his racing career.” My heart went out to the man for his unrealized scoop. Poor guy. Nothing like a supposedly big story going down the drain. “I was traveling with him back then and we met Pai and a bunch of other people while we were on the road. Lucky for Jacky and Pai they could visit our friends whenever they want to.”
“Ah. So what about you, Miss Bryant?”
I smiled. “I’m in college and we have scheduled vacations.”
“Of course.” The small man scratched the side of his head for a moment or two. “Really no relationship or wedding or anything?”
“No. Sorry.” I winked at him and started to walk away. “Don’t worry. I’ll be the first to tell you if ever there will be any one of these.”
I could still see the reporter gaping even as I rounded the corner. Out of his line of vision, I leaned against the walls of the corridor.
“They’re meeting some old friends of ours.”
Akira wasn’t the only one who lived in Japan.
Maybe I wanted to go with them, but only convinced myself that I didn’t.
It’s not that I can’t live without you
It’s just that I don’t even want to try
Every night I dream about you
Ever since the day we said goodbye
~Backstreet Boys, Back to Your Heart
Tokyo breathed and throbbed with a frenetic pace, and even more so when night falls on the skyscrapers with its irresistible, seductive embrace.
The building was not as tall as I would have liked, but it would have to do as a place from which to watch the sunset.
I landed on the skyscraper’s roof and vaguely noted its leaf-littered helipad. The place was unkempt, too. People did not go up this part of the building frequently. Or maybe they were too lazy to care about cleaning the area.
But I silently thanked them for allowing me use of their premises, although my taking this privilege was unbeknownst to them.
The horizon, bursting with colors of pure amber, fiery orange and blood red, caught my attention and all my reflections were silenced. The whisper of voices at the back of my head turned their jeerings down, and I touched momentary peacefulness. I found myself wishing that if only I could always feel like this.
Behind my mask, I smiled an ephemeral smile.
“All things come to pass,” one of my teachers had once said. That was an adage that held true even in the earliest teachings of Hagakure, that we all must live this fleeting life to earn a rightful place in the peace of death.
Thus I live, so I could die.
If spoken, I am certain that this would sound poetically beautiful and tragic.
And would have surely sent Akira-kun into fits of laughter.
After so many years, someone had once again taken the liberty of considering himself as my friend and, much to my surprise, I had welcomed it, even if it came from an unselfishly heroic and fearfully ravenous boy like Akira Yuki. He had first experienced defeat against me in New Las Vegas, yet he held no grudges.
After that final battle against the machine Dural in Hong Kong, Akira had decided to go back to his grandfather’s dojo in Japan. From then on, he was welcomed at our Hagakure village whenever he wanted to cross-train with me. He visited almost each month, always bringing news about the others.
He had mentioned last month that some of them were planning to spend a vacation in Japan sometime this year, but he wasn’t sure exactly when. He had been more interested about convincing me to find a VCR so we could watch a movie tape, one of those martial arts features starring Pai Chan.
I always marveled how he could express himself so freely, without qualms of being considered vulnerable and weak. The day had almost fully retreated into blue-black darkness, the sky dotted with the last spatters of faded red sunlight.
This was how the sky had looked like on that fateful night in New Las Vegas, when I looked down at the busy cityscape and waited for the phone call, the confirmation that my services had been duly paid for. The night when I sold my soul, which I later tried to desperately buy back, no matter the price.
The night when my heart was stolen, and when my pride lost itself in a battle against truth and guilt.
Everything had never been the same afterwards.
The skyline manifested a confirmation, losing most of its light to the onset of evening and shadows. The final reddish beams of day had finally disappeared.
Just as quickly as I arrived at the top of this skyscraper, I left. I still had to gather my belongings and head back to the country, as any other person would do. Running through the skyline was alienating, a deliberate attempt to further dissociate myself from the rest of the world.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow you will be back home.
I looked forward to going back to Hagakure, after weeks of traveling. Perhaps Akira would bring news that our friends were indeed coming.
I could only hope.
Doesn’t have to say love
Doesn’t need to be love
Doesn’t mean a thing
~This Love, Cruel Intentions OST
The corridor was silent as I walked down its length towards the parking lot. I had parked my scooter at the far side of the airport when I arrived to see Jacky and Pai off.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go with us?” Pai’s eyes were pleading and cajoling at the same time.
I nodded ruefully. “I’m sure. There’s a whole bunch of important lectures lined up for this week. I can’t afford to play hooky, with the upcoming exams and all.”
“Mid-terms,” Jacky grumbled. “Ever the conscientious one, aren’t you?”
I grinned at him. “Of course. It wouldn’t do if you go around winning races and stealing the limelight from me, big brother. I could at least try gunning for cum laude.”
Pai was laughing. “Really, it would be nice to have you with us. You would keep me sane in the presence of all these primitive men.” She wrinkled her nose, and we both giggled, much to Jacky’s chagrin.
As I steadily continued on my way, I hoped I would encounter no more reporters. They were fun to talk to, with all their insatiable curiousity and silly assuming questions, but right now I didn’t feel like talking to anybody.
I rarely feel as crabby as this. It would have been better if Alexander had not chosen to leave my side. But that was okay. I knew he missed spending time with the others. It would be selfish of me to hold that against him.
God, if I allowed myself to wallow around like this, my exams would be fantastically pitiful.
I rounded another corner and saw daylight at the other end of the hallway, pointing me in the direction of the parking lot. It would be nice to ride through the wind, to cool down before buckling myself to another round of soundless studying at the apartment.
I gave a start when I felt a hand grip one of my arms, effectively pulling me to a stop. I whipped my head around, ready for anything.
Anything except what I saw.
He was dressed in a gray-brown jumpsuit and had a cap of the same color pulled over his eyes.
“We are not going to your brother.”
It couldn’t be.
The floating golden dust and the teasing voice and the silent chuckle.
Three years past, yet still so fresh in my mind.
The first time I met him.
“Excuse me, miss.”
The voice was old and a wrinkled face with a gray mustache appeared from beneath the shadows of the cap. A sigh of undeniable relief coursed through my body and I felt my knees buckle, almost hammering me down to the floor. But I held my ground.
“May I help you?” My eyes caught the label of an airline stitched onto the pocket of the jumpsuit.
The elderly man held up a tiny dark green notebook. “You dropped this down the hall. Thought you might want it back.”
My Philosophy notes. I smiled as I received the booklet from his outstretched fingers. “Yes. Yes I do. Thank you very much.”
“Hey, think nothin’ of it. Just doing my job.” He gave me a nod and returned my smile. “Have a good afternoon.” He turned and began retracing his steps down the hallway, away from me.
“You too,” I called out after him. “Thanks again.”
I turned back towards the welcoming light of the parking lot and closed the distance with hurried steps.
Once outside, I paused in the warmth of mid-afternoon and cursed myself for being so jumpy. I really needed to get out of the apartment more, to be around people, instead of just shuttling between classes and Jacky’s races.
Maybe too much studying and strong college-brew latte made an otherwise sane person grow nerves. Maybe I was envious that all my friends seemed to be having fun and I was bogged down with textbooks and boxes of yellow highlighters.
Maybe I was missing out on something.
As I crossed the quiet, almost isolated area towards my scooter, I have never felt so alone.
You’re flying, you’re flying with a broken wing
Still you’re carrying the weight
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” you say
You were built to fear no pain
~Barbie’s Cradle, Wing
It was so long ago when I first felt this pain and deception, to a point that their bitter tang filled my entire being.
I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a large screen filled with spots of white and black. Static and strange warbling sounds filled my ears, and my body felt cold.
“Why? Why are you doing this?”
My own angry question, the one I had uttered before succumbing to the nothingness of defeat and failure, echoed through my mind. It hurt to even think about what had just transpired.
My village. All of it. All my people.
Oh, gods. They have all been brutally destroyed in the cloak of darkness, in the deceitful peacefulness of early dawn.
I have failed in my task to protect them. All the things that I had done to make sure that my home would always be the sanctuary that I had known, gods, have all been consumed by the fires and hatred that swept so quickly through Hagakure.
The iron restraints burnt ice and pain into my skin; they had been fastened tightly around my wrists and ankles. The entire room, from what I could discern in the hollow darkness of the cell, was made of equally cold concrete. It smelled of blood and dust and anger.
Hate had never been so tangible to me, until this very moment.
I had been defeated by that hate, been weakened because all I had carried with me were my futile hopes.
Hopes that would never come true, now that I have fallen so deeply into the enemy’s trap.
The cell door creaked open and he stepped inside, letting in sparse light that made my eyes hurt. I did not flinch. Weakness on my part made him all the more powerful.
His eyes were empty and cold as he trained them on my face.
“I hope you are grateful for my hospitality.” His voice was scathing.
“It’s been a long time, Oni-Maru. You still have that false idea of good taste. That, at least, hasn’t changed.”
I expected the whipping strike that was his response, the razor-sharp pain that lashed across my face. I wondered if it would leave a scar, to match the one that had already marred my countenance for so many years.
He could at least match it.
The strike drew no blood.
“Self-righteous bastard. You think you can get away with what you did to me with your delusions of purity? You’re dead wrong.”
“I have already gotten away with it long ago,” I answered, and it was the truth. “You might have taken every life in Hagakure, but you would never have won any of their hearts with your lies.”
“And you think you don’t lie, Kage-Maru? You’re a sorry hypocrite caught in an even sorrier state.”
I glared at him. He could kill me, but I would never welcome his taunts, even if they struck so close to the truth.
“If only I did not vow to make you suffer first, old man,” he continued, his voice dangerously low, holding the promise of pain. “I could kill you whenever I want to, even now.”
“So why don’t you?”
Mirthless laughter filled the entire cell and made me cringe inwardly. It sounded like rusty nails scraping against an uneven steel surface, grating and coarse and disturbing.
“You would want that, and I don’t want to give you such an early end. That would be too kind of me, ne?”
With these words, he left the cell and sharply shut the door after him. I heard locks being pulled back into place. Then all was silent once more.
In the darkness of my prison, I waited for death.
The Way is to live, so we could die.
At least, I had lived. I deemed it enough that I had once learned to listen to my heart.
I just want to feel safe in my own skin
I just want to be happy again
I just want to feel deep in my own world
But I’m so lonely I don’t even want to be with myself anymore
~Dido, Honestly OK
I stood in the middle of a long, dark corridor, and it had a musty, dusty feel that reminded me of an unused library storeroom.
“Jacky!” I called out. “Where are you?”
I wandered down the hallway and it seemed to have no end. I kept calling out to my brother until a voice spoke from the darkness.
“Your brother’s dead.”
“No! You’re wrong!” I shouted back. “You’re lying.”
The voice did not respond. Instead, the corridor sparked with tiny specks of light, all coming from golden dust that had began to float all around me.
The voice came from beside me this time.
“I’m here to help you.”
I turned to look but no one was there.
“I have decided to help those whom I wanted to protect,” the unseen voice went on. “I will fight with you.”
“Where are you?” Fear had crawled into me, and my voice fairly shook with it.
The earth beneath me began to crumble and I was thrown off balance. Then everything around me exploded, my senses overwhelmed with heat, smoke, and the suffocating smell of sulfur.
Something hit me on the chest and I gasped and fell onto the ground with the excruciating pain, my knees hurting with the impact. I felt my teeth dig into my tongue and draw blood. But the pain that had seemingly struck straight into my heart was greater, much worse.
I looked down at my hands clutching the source of the pain and saw a gleaming silver shuriken, the star-shaped dart digging deep into my chest. Blood poured over my fingers, impossibly fast, like a faucet fully opened.
I shut my eyes and prayed for peacefulness in this final moment of my life. I wanted to say sorry to my brother, for being so weak and stupid, but the streams of blood had reached up to my throat and mouth, choking me.
My senses swirled unheeding in the darkness of my impending end for I did not know how long. Finally, spent, I opened my eyes and expected the kind embrace of heaven.
I was still kneeling in the middle of the endless unlit hallway, but the earth was now deathly still.
I saw that the blood from my heart had dried and formed a long red scarf, fluttering in my hand like a butterfly wanting to be set free.
The ribbon that I had used to bandage Kage’s arm, years ago, on that hotel balcony in New Las Vegas.
I began to cry.
Tears were falling like tiny rivers down my cheeks.
I looked around. I was in the middle of my bed in the apartment, surrounded by piles of books, random highlighters and bright moonlight. I have been lying facedown on the comforter.
Dreaming. I was dreaming.
I turned onto my back and braced my hands on the covers, drawing myself up into a sitting position. My heart was pounding like crazy, threatening to burst out of my body.
My hair was damp with sweat and tears and I shoved the errant locks out of my face. I ran my palms on my cheeks, wanting to wipe away confusion and not succeeding.
I never had a nightmare this vivid in such a long time. I had dreams about my time being suspended in Eva Durix’s psychological prison, but never this painful and real.
I brought my knees up to chest and wrapped my arms around them, willing everything to stay away. I knew I was being childish and irrational, but I did not care.
At that moment, I was the only one who could confront my fears and doubts.
But that was all a dream, wasn’t it?
I did not know the answer.
I got off the bed and allowed my shaky feet to take me to the window. I drew the curtains aside and looked up at the night sky.
It was beautifully clear, with a full moon, and dotted with stars that shone so brightly. I breathed the evening breeze in, cleansing my lungs of constriction and sobs.
I sat on the wide, sturdy windowframe and watched the world through my half-dried tears.
Night and dawn came to pass, until my bleary, pained eyes were met with the first streaks of sunlight.
Watching the transition with untrusting alertness, I was suddenly afraid of what tomorrow might bring.
Deliver me, out of my sadness
Deliver me, from all of the madness
Deliver me, courage to guide me
Deliver me, strength from inside me
~Deliver Me, Brokedown Palace OST